Lavallière, Eve (c. 1866–1929)
Lavallière, Eve (c. 1866–1929)
Popular and versatile French stage actress who became a nun. Name variations: Eugénie Lavallière; Eva Lavalliere; Eugénie Feneglio. Born Eugénie Pascaline Feneglio around 1866, in Toulon, France; died on July 10, 1929, in Vosges, France; children: (with Fernand Samuel, a theater manager) one daughter, Jeanne.
Raised in Toulon and Perpignan; apprenticed to dressmaker; became singer and actress in Paris at end of 19th century, most closely associated with Variété Theater; retired (1915); entered l'Ordre des Tertiaires Franciscains (1920s).
Born Eugénie Pascaline Feneglio in the seaport town of Toulon, France, around 1866, Eve Lavallière was the daughter of two poverty-stricken dressmakers. Her father made costumes for the Bijou Theater, while her mother sewed clothes for private customers at home. Her parents were alcoholics, constantly arguing and sometimes physically violent, and Lavallière and her older brother grew up in a dispiriting environment. She found escape as a child in attending church, in studying at l'École des Dames de Saint-Maur and in visiting the theater where her father worked, a combined fascination with religion and theatrics that was to inform her two chosen careers in life.
The family moved inland to Perpignan, throwing themselves on the charity of their relative, Madame Garnier . After Lavallière's father fatally wounded her mother and then shot himself, Madame Garnier sent the teenager to live at the local convent, but the girl soon ran away, apprenticing with a fashionable dressmaker. There the talented and ambitious young woman is said to have acquired the name Lavallière, after Louise de La Vallière (1644–1710), mistress of Louis XIV. An aspiring actress, Lavallière formed a small amateur theater group with some friends, charging minimal admission to see works by Racine and Molière.
Moving to Paris, Lavallière adopted the first name Eve to go with her new persona. Poor and vulnerable, she found work singing cabaret in Montmartre bars. Her break came when she won an audition for the chorus line at the Variété. Before long, she was "the hit of Paris," according to Janet Flanner in Paris Was Yesterday. Actress, singer and comedian, Lavallière became a well-known and much gossiped-about figure of Paris' glamorous nightlife. She had a daughter, Jeanne, with Fernand Samuel, the manager of the Variété, though whether she ever married Samuel or not is disputed; he died before World War I.
Her last performances were in 1914, when she created the title role in Ma Tante d'Honfleur. Despite plans to travel to the United States for a tour, Lavallière decided to retire from the theater, taking up residence at the château of Chanceaux-sur-Choiselles. Her dramatic flight from the theatrical world caused much speculation, including accusations of espionage on behalf of the Germans. In search of a religious life, Lavallière asked to join the Carmelite order of Avignon but was refused. After much searching for a religious order that would accept her, Lavallière went to Africa for a short-lived stint as a nurse in Tunis.
In the summer of 1929, Eve Lavallière, like her namesake Louise de La Vallière, died a nun, a member of l'Ordre des Tertiaires Franciscains in the Vosges.
Flanner, Janet. Paris Was Yesterday. NY: Viking, 1972.
Murphy, Edward F. Mademoiselle Lavallière. NY: Doubleday, 1949.
Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York